Logic and the Killing
Of John Kennedy
By Gary Sumner ©2002
There is not the slightest chance on earth that a conspiracy was involved in the assassination of President John Kennedy.
While such a bold statement may shock and infuriate true believers in the Kennedy conspiracy, I intend to support it with what I believe is a new approach: an appeal to reason. (I believe it’s a new approach, but considering that more than 2,000 books and God knows how many articles have been written on the assassination, I can’t possibly know that for sure.)
Anyone acquainted with the real evidence in the case knows that it all points to Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone assassin. Beyond question, he shot Kennedy from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository as the presidential motorcade moved down Elm Street below him. And he was the only shooter. However, I’m not going to deal with evidence in this analysis. The evidence is there, it is overwhelming, and it has already been massively written up. That hasn’t prevented unscrupulous (or misguided) writers and at least one movie maker from trying to convince people that Kennedy’s death was the result of a mysterious conspiracy. Probably more nonsense has been written about the Kennedy assassination in the past 40 years than on any other subject.
There is something as important as evidence—as long as it is not contradicted by it—and that is reason. Was there a group of men who planned and carried out the murder? (Excuse me, ladies, I don’t think any women would have been involved in those days.) By following out certain logical processes, we should be able to determine the likelihood of that. Don’t underestimate reason. It can be a powerful tool in uncovering the truth. Evidence is certainly vital and in some situations can make a conclusive case all by itself. But evidence can also be manufactured, distorted and misinterpreted—which it certainly has been in the Kennedy case—while reason is pure. It’s right there in front of us and it can’t be faked or twisted.
At the outset let’s be clear that there is a large difference between a lone assassin and a group of conspirators. The lone killer will generally have an irrational motive that appeals only to him. John W. Hinckley Jr. shot President Reagan in 1981 with the bizarre notion that actress Jody Foster would admire him and even fall in love with him because of it.(1) Arthur Bremer shot presidential candidate George Wallace in 1972 to make a name for himself and also because he thought it would be a riotously fun thing to do.(2) (Wallace was permanently paralyzed from the waist down.) Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian immigrant, fatally shot Sen. Robert Kennedy in 1968 in a Los Angeles hotel because of the senator’s backing of Israel in its conflicts with its Arab neighbors.(3) Oswald, who was himself shot to death two days after the Kennedy assassination, never explained his motive, but it’s known that he was a communist who was filled with hatred of the United States and who had defected temporarily to the Soviet Union. He was also an antisocial loner in a bad marriage and a dead-end job who had nothing to lose.
Each of these assassins had his own twisted motive that would appeal only to him. As Jim Bishop, author of The Day Kennedy Was Shot, observed, “A history of assassins is a glossary of persons sick and obsessed.”
Nature of Conspiracies
But for a group of conspirators to come together to plot the death of the president, there must be a rational motive, however evil and immoral. The president’s death must result in some clear-cut, practical benefit to all the members of the group. And the benefit must be so great, the motive so powerful, that the conspirators are willing to risk everything—imprisonment, death, disgrace, loss of career and family—to reach their goal. These mysterious men in our hypothetical conspiracy had to know that the odds were heavily against them. In Lincoln’s day, presidential assassination was easy. But since at least the middle of the Twentieth Century, it has been a task of the most extreme difficulty. Getting away with it is probably impossible. Men intelligent and capable enough to plan and carry out an assassination would be aware of the odds against them. What would drive them to undertake a mission that would almost certainly fail and bring them to ruin? And whatever benefits they thought they would obtain, wasn’t there some simpler, less risky path to the same goal? Did they really have to kill the president? These questions would apply as much to foreign conspirators acting for a government as to domestic ones.
We could try to discover the motive by asking “cui bono,” who benefited from the murder. You could say that Vice President Lyndon Johnson benefited because Kennedy’s death vaulted him into the presidency. And there have been suggestions that, indeed, Johnson was the mastermind who plotted the assassination.
Let’s deal with that allegation. The mere fact that a man is in the office of vice president when a president is assassinated hardly constitutes evidence that he was involved in the killing. The last president to be assassinated before Kennedy was William McKinley, in 1901. (Shot by another nutcase, an anarchist named Leon Czolgosz.)(4) McKinley’s vice president, Theodore Roosevelt, succeeded to the presidency. As far as I know, nobody has suggested that Roosevelt was involved in the murder. And as for Johnson, was he so power crazed that he couldn’t wait for the election of 1968, when he might well have become president in his own right? The idea is supported by neither evidence nor reason.
But for the sake of argument, let’s pursue it briefly. Any plot masterminded by LBJ would have required the collusion of a great many people. He couldn’t have pulled it off by himself or even with a handful of loyal associates. Some of Kennedy’s closest advisers, in fact, would have to have been involved in the plot. Kennedy’s entire trip, including the motorcade route through Dallas, would have to have been arranged so as to get the President in the gunman’s crosshairs.
At this point the whole idea of a Lyndon Johnson conspiracy collapses. The theory that Johnson was part of some deep-cover network including some of Kennedy’s own people who manipulated the president into going to Dallas, where their assassin waited, is so silly that only a true paranoiac could believe it. If there was massive evidence to support it, of course we would have to accept it—but there isn’t any.
Motives and Men
Who are the other suspects that have been suggested by various theorists as forming the deadly conspiracy? The FBI, the CIA, the Secret Service, the U.S. military, the Mafia, anti-Castro Cubans, Jews, the “Communist Conspiracy,” Big Oil men, the Dallas police, and some combination of these. One writer even claimed that TV newsmen Dan Rather and Robert MacNeil were involved.(5) It’s hard to imagine what benefit the individual members of these groups thought they would realize from attempting such an audacious undertaking as the assassination of the President of the United States. They had to be aware that the odds against them were close to prohibitive. Yet they went ahead—and (if there really was a conspiracy) succeeded beyond their imaginings.
The absence of a believable rational motive that couldn’t be satisfied any other way than killing the president is itself a powerful argument against the existence of a conspiracy. Various motives have been suggested, and I have no intention of going down the list and refuting them one by one. Some are fantastic and some merely mundane, but none are believable. None describe a goal that couldn’t have been achieved in far easier and less risky ways than killing a president.
And think about the men who planned this presidential assassination, prevented any leaks, executed it to perfection, and escaped. They would have to be highly intelligent, knowledgeable men of the world, men who know how to kill, who know guns and explosives, who know military and paramilitary operations, who know law enforcement and how to evade it. They would be the cream, the smartest of the smart, the toughest of the tough. Before proceeding, they would devise an airtight plan that would ensure the success of their operation.
(Incidentally, some theorists hold that Oswald was part of the conspiracy, but didn’t do the actual shooting, or that he did shoot, along with one or more additional gunman, but that he was set up by other members of the group to take the fall while they got away. Some have even argued that Oswald was a patsy, a nice young man who had nothing to do with the crime.)
A Double Objective
Now let’s consider the conspirators’ goals, which were twofold. One was to kill the president—not wound him, not scare him, but kill him. For whatever reason, they wanted Kennedy dead. The other goal was to get away with the crime. We assume that this was not a suicide mission. (After all, unless you count Oswald, the conspirators got away, didn’t they?)
Now, when you set out to kill a president, you don’t want to try something haphazard and hope for the best. What you want is something close to a foolproof plan that will result in the success of your mission and your escape. So what plan did these mysterious conspirators come up with?
Let’s start with their choice of weapon, a gun. Is there anything foolproof about the use of a gun? Hardly. A gun, in fact, is a very unreliable means of killing a person. Certainly a gun will kill, and sometimes one quick shot is all it takes. Many people have died that way. But a gun will kill reliably only when the shooter is in a controlled situation, has the victim cornered in some way and has the time to shoot and shoot again until the person is unquestionably dead.
Otherwise, especially in a public place where the gunman may have a window of opportunity of only a few seconds, he is likely to miss his target altogether. There are no statistics on how many people have been shot at and missed, but the number must be huge. Second, even if the gunman hits his target, the shot is most likely to be nonlethal. As far as I have been able to determine, the FBI doesn’t keep statistics comparing the number of people who are wounded by gunshots with those who are shot fatally. However, all it takes is the daily reading of a newspaper for several years to teach anyone the truth that most gunshot victims recover from their wounds.
I think true believers in the Kennedy conspiracy—as opposed to those who pretend to believe it for the sake of monetary gain—are people who have had little or no experience with firearms, who have no idea how difficult and tricky guns are to use in real life, especially at long range. These people see cowboys and detectives on TV casually dropping their victims with a single shot at a distance and it looks easy. All you have to do is pull the trigger and, poof, your victim bites the dust. You want to kill the president? Sure, just shoot him and he’s gone.
In real life, the thing is somewhat more difficult. Hinckley’s attempted assassination of Reagan perfectly illustrates the difficulty of killing with a gun, especially in a public place. Actually, Hinckley was lucky to get as close to the president as he did. Secret Service agents are well trained to spot a concealed weapon and are constantly running their eyes over a crowd. But there is always that chance event that isn’t supposed to occur. Hinckley did get close, on March 30, 1981, when Reagan was walking from the Washington Hilton Hotel, where he had given a luncheon speech, to his limousine. The President reached the car, turned, smiled and started to wave to the crowd.
There was Hinckley’s window. It lasted perhaps three seconds.
He jerked out his .22-caliber revolver and began firing explosive “Detonator” bullets. Presidential press secretary James Brady, Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy and Washington police officer Thomas Delahanty were all wounded—Brady the most seriously—but all survived. Of the six rounds Hinckley fired, only one hit the President, and that was a ricochet from the limousine. The bullet ended up in Reagan’s left lung and he was whisked away to George Washington Hospital. Hinckley was wrestled to the ground and taken off to jail.(6)
The point here is that neither of our conspirators’ twin goals—assassination and escape—was met. Reagan fully recovered from his wound, was reelected by a landslide in 1984, and at this writing, 21 years after the attack, is still living. And Hinckley, far from escaping, remains in custody. Of course, he wanted to be caught, or at least identified. Otherwise he wouldn’t have become famous and in a position to impress Jody Foster.
In fact, it’s typical of lone assassins that they don’t expect to get away with their crime. Their motive may be to achieve notoriety, e.g., Hinckley and Bremer. Or they may be so fanatically devoted to their cause that they are willing to trade their life or freedom for the life of their victim, e.g., Sirhan. That’s why lone assassins aren’t bothered by another disadvantage of using a gun—i.e., that the shooter has to be close to his victim, making escape all but impossible. Even a high-powered rifle with a telescopic sight requires the shooter to be close enough to his target that detection of the marksman’s location is certain and escape virtually impossible. So—wherever you have a lone assassin with an irrational motive for killing a president, there you can expect the absence of a getaway plan. And there you have Lee Harvey Oswald.
One more point about guns before we analyze our conspirators’ plan: A moving target, even a slowly moving one, is much harder to hit than a stationary one. The gunman has to lead the target the exact right amount so that victim and bullet converge on the same point simultaneously. Oswald didn’t have to concern himself with much, if any, lead because the presidential limousine would be moving almost directly away from him as he looked down from the sixth floor of the school-book depository. (The car may have been trending very slightly to his right.)
If there were additional gunmen, however, such as the one that has been claimed to have shot at the oncoming president from the infamous “grassy knoll,” they would have been obliged to calculate lead—probably a good bit. They would have to have been positioned some distance to either the side of the street rather than being directly in front of or behind the president’s car. Furthermore, any gunman at ground level would have faced the difficulty of shooting at precisely the right moment, to coordinate with the shots from the depository, while keeping himself concealed from the numerous spectators lining the motorcade route—an impossible task.
Some authors have theorized that there were assassins in other buildings as well as on the ground. One writer of a popular book said there were three shooters, each of whom fired a “volley” at the limousine.(7) Another claimed that there were nine gunmen.(8) Imagine it! Nine men out there banging away at the president in full view of the public and nobody saw anybody but Oswald leaning out the window of the book depository with a rifle.
To sum up what we’ve discussed so far. A rational motive for killing President Kennedy that would produce enormous benefits for a group of conspirators cannot be found. A gun is an unreliable means of killing a person. And the use of one requires the shooter to be so close to his victim that—especially if the victim happens to be president—escape is all but impossible. (I leave it to the reader to determine what would be a reliable means of killing a president and getting away with it. Probably there isn’t one.)
The Master Plan
Now let’s consider the plot. On November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was going to be riding through Dallas in a convertible and he would be visible from about the chest up—a small, moving target, with other people in the car. Huge crowds would be watching—the Secret Service, the press, the public, with TV cameras set up along the way. So what brilliant plan did our conspirators come up with? The plan was to shoot Kennedy as the motorcade passed by. Oh, of course. That way his death would be certain and the conspirators would all get away with it.
Such a plot seems more likely to be concocted by the Three Stooges—perhaps working with Bozo the Clown—than a coldly intelligent, knowledgeable group of men. Yet one thing nobody can deny: if there was a plot, that was it. And on that hard rock all the conspiracy theories must sink. Nothing else matters. Bullet trajectories, the number of seconds that elapsed during the shooting, the supposed puff of smoke from the grassy knoll, the three tramps supposedly running down the railroad tracks, the fact that Jack Ruby murdered Oswald “before he could talk.” None of it matters. The plot—to fatally shoot Kennedy in a moving car out there in front of the whole world and get away with it—is so laughable that nobody with an IQ above the moron level would believe it would work. Certainly no group of worldly men would gamble their lives and careers on such a preposterous scheme.
But an individual might try it, if he was a hate-filled loner with nothing to lose and a practiced marksman who discovered that the president was going to cruise right by the building where he worked. No complicated planning would be necessary, no coordination with others, no concern about somebody with a loose tongue giving away the plot in advance. All that would be required would be a high-powered rifle and a reasonably secure place to shoot from. What the hell, fire off a few rounds at the presidential limousine and see what happens. You might get lucky and suddenly be transformed from a nobody into the most prominent personage in the world, the Man Who Killed the President of the United States.
Now let’s apply reason to two additional aspects of the Kennedy assassination: the perfection of the operation and the unbroken silence of the killers. According to well-known Murphy’s Law, if anything can go wrong, it will. Imagine all the things that could have gone wrong in attempting a difficult, dangerous operation such as killing the President of the United States. Considering the idiotic nature of the plan, the slightest mishap, the tiniest unforeseen circumstance, could have brought the operation to ruin. But nothing went wrong. The killers achieved perfection.
And since then they have successfully resisted the urge to talk about it. Various authors have postulated anywhere from a couple of dozen conspirators to several hundred. At this writing the assassination took place 40 years ago, yet no conspirator has talked. Not one has gotten drunk and revealed the murder to his wife or mistress, who has then gone to the authorities or the media. Not one has made a death-bed confession. Not one has left behind a letter of explanation in his lawyer’s safe to be opened after his death.
Think about it. These mysterious men, many of whom must not even have known one another before the plot was hatched, got together, planned and carried out the crime of the ages, in public and on television, then vanished ghostlike into history. Nobody saw them and they didn’t make any mistakes. None of them ever talked. They committed the perfect crime, using the stupidest plan imaginable, and got away with it. (All except poor Oswald, who of course was set up by the others.) Now, reason may not tell us that such a flawless operation is impossible, but it does tell us that the odds against it are millions to one. Reason, in fact, tells us that it never happened.
The principle in logic known as Occam’s Razor holds that in choosing among the possible solutions to a mystery, the simplest one—if it is in accord with the facts—is most likely to be correct. The simplest solution to this “mystery”—and in fact there is no mystery—is that Lee Oswald shot John Kennedy with his Mannlicher-Carcano rifle from a sixth-floor window of the school-book depository and that he acted alone.
The Judgment of Reason
The contribution I have tried to make to the Kennedy assassination saga in this essay has been to apply reason to it rather than quibbling over evidentiary minutiae. Using this technique, I believe I have made a strong case that there was no conspiracy. The truth of the following four statements I consider to be certain:
· No believable motive powerful enough to lead a group of rational men to kill the president can be produced.
· Intelligent, knowledgeable men determined to kill wouldn’t have chosen an unreliable weapon such as a gun.
· Having made that bad choice, they wouldn’t have compounded it by planning to hit a small, moving target.
· They wouldn’t have planned to assassinate the president in full view of a huge crowd, including a television audience, and expected to get away with it.
The truth of the final two statements, if not certain, I consider to be of the highest probability:
· The conspirators would have made mistakes, or encountered unexpected situations, that would have caused their operation to fail, or at least would have led to their apprehension.
· In all the years that have gone by, at least one of them would have talked or left behind a confession at death.
This concludes my application of reason to the Kennedy assassination. I have tried to create a framework of logic showing that, in the circumstances, a conspiracy could not have been responsible for the murder. I believe the logic is impeccable and I challenge anyone to refute it. If you want to refute it, don’t start talking about evidence. What you need to do is explain how a bunch of imbeciles, operating with the silliest plan on record, could have brought off a presidential assassination without a hitch and gotten away with it. Also explain how they were able to make themselves invisible. After you have pinned down these two points, then you can start telling me about the evidence.
I know that many people will not be satisfied with logic, no matter how irrefutable. They have been exposed to so many lies and half-truths about the assassination that they can be forgiven for believing vaguely that there must have been a conspiracy. Otherwise, why would all these accusations keep circulating on the Internet and elsewhere on an almost daily basis? People who have been subjected to this brain-washing naturally want certain questions answered. For example:
· Was there a bullet (the “magic bullet”) that had to change directions three or four times to accomplish what was attributed to it in the assassination?
· Was the well-known photograph of Oswald holding the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle faked?
· Was Oswald’s mini-biography accidentally leaked to the press before he was even charged with a crime?
· Was Oswald photographed standing in front of the depository when he was supposed to be up on the sixth floor shooting a rifle out the window?
· Did a mysterious man finger Oswald for the police in Texas Theater, then vanish?
· Did Jack Ruby kill Oswald to keep him from talking?
· Was Ruby himself murdered in jail?
· Have numerous men who seemed to have a connection to the assassination, and might have revealed the conspiracy, died mysteriously?
The answer to all these questions is NO and I can do no better than to refer you to the book that proves it, Gerald Posner’s masterly Case Closed. If you want evidence, the real evidence, this is where you will find it. Other good and true books have been written about the Kennedy assassination—notably two by David Belin—but one of the great values of the Posner book is that it was published 31 years after the murder, in 1993. By then, all the lies, distortions, rumors, errors and myths had had time to surface and circulate, and Posner demolishes them all.
Whatever conspiracy theories you hold about the Kennedy assassination, they will not be able to stand up under Posner’s relentless assaults. Read his book if you dare. Or if you’re afraid, hide from it and sneer at it. If you don’t want to read all 499 pages (including the appendix), go to the index and find the subjects you want to check. They are all there. Many libraries have the book and all bookstores can order it.
As much as I admire Posner, I want to make it clear that he did not influence me in my use of reason to explode the idea of conspiracy. That idea came to me about a year before Case Closed was published. I had read a couple of other books, including one of Belin’s, and had done a good deal of thinking about the assassination. I was already of the opinion that there had been no conspiracy. Then one night in 1992 as I was watching a TV documentary on the 30th anniversary of the assassination, all the circumstances surrounding it came together to form a whole in my mind. And out of that whole there rose before me a clear, pure logic by which I suddenly saw that Kennedy’s death was not the result of a conspiracy and could not have been. The next year Case Closed was published and I was gratified to see that all the evidence supported my logic.
The case against Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone assassin is as open and shut as anything could possibly be. There is simply no reasonable doubt about it. But there are those who will never accept this truth. They want there to have been a conspiracy. I admit I felt the same way when my interest in the assassination was rekindled during a trip to Dallas in 1975, when I stood in Dealey Plaza and took pictures of the school-book depository, Elm Street and the grassy knoll. I determined to read up on the subject when I got back home, and I had visions of encountering traces of a shadowy, mysterious conspiracy of evil geniuses who had killed the president and were still lurking out there. If Oswald did it by himself, that was boring. But if there was a conspiracy, now that would be fascinating!
However, I finally realized, to my disappointment, that the whole conspiracy idea was nothing but a fantasy. As for those who are determined to believe in it, I sympathize with them. But there comes a time when all little boys and girls must grow up and put away their conspiracy theories, just as they gave up their bubble gum, comic books and yo-yos when they were growing up the first time.
1. Deborah Hart Strober & Gerald S. Strober, Reagan, the Man and His Presidency, p. 120. Also http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/hinckley/HBIO.HTM
2. Arthur H. Bremer, An Assassin’s Diary.
3. Evan Thomas, Robert Kennedy, His Life, p. 386. Also http://w.who2.com/sirhansirhan.html
4. Dictionary of American Biography, p. 109
5. www.skolnicksreport.com by Sherman Skolnick This material is hard to find on the site now, but on 10/9/01 it read, in part: “With flimsy excuses, several reputedly venal and for-sale reporters were right there, available in the murder zone, to be later rewarded for false reports, opening the way for their promotion to highly-lucrative TV network status, such as Dan Rather, later CBS Network anchor face, and Robert MacNeil, later PBS co-anchor and co-owner of his own network program with Jim Lehrer.”
6. Lou Cannon, Reagan, pp. 403-404.
7. Jim Marrs, Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy.
8. Penn Jones, author of four self-published books on the assassination, cited by Posner, p. 483.
Belin, David W. November 22, 1963: You Are the Jury. New York: Quadrangle/The New York Times Books, 1973.
_______. Final Disclosure, New York: Scribner’s, 1988.
Bishop, Jim. The Day Kennedy Was Shot. New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1968.
Bremer, Arthur H. An Assassin’s Diary (Introduction by Harding Lemay). New York: Harper’s Magazine Press; published in association with Harper & Row, 1972, 1973.
Clarke, James W. American Assassins. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1982.
Cannon, Lou. Reagan. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1982.
Dictionary of American Biography
CR 1933, New York
Charles Scribner’s Sons
Marrs, Jim. Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1989, 1990.
Posner, Gerald. Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK. New York: Random House, 1993.
Strober, Deborah Hart, and Strober, Gerald S. Reagan, the Man and His Presidency. New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1998.
Thomas, Evan. Robert Kennedy, His Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000.